A Mystic’s Guide to the Life of St. Joseph
BOOK PICK: In Paul Thigpen’s latest, ‘we see not only Joseph, Jesus, Mary, and their contemporaries but in a certain sense ourselves as well. Held up as a mirror, this story invites us all to view ourselves more clearly and to imitate their holy example as we seek to navigate the course of our lives.’
The Life of St. Joseph as Seen by the Mystics
Compiled by Paul Thigpen
TAN Books, 2022
152 pages, $19.95
To order: tanbooks.com
Now added to writings on St. Joseph is a book with a unique theme: The Life of St. Joseph as Seen by the Mystics, compiled by Paul Thigpen.
While on the surface it can easily be thought of as a history of this greatest of all saints after Mary, the book goes far beyond that. It becomes a wonderful aid to contemplation and meditation on St. Joseph — his place in the Holy Family and what their life together must have been like.
For it, Thigpen blended together works and revelations from five mystics: St. Bridget of Sweden, who founded the Brigittines and is one of the co-patronesses of Europe; 17th-century Spanish nun Venerable Marina de Escobar; Venerable Mary of Ágreda, a 17th-century discalced Franciscan nun whose The Mystical City of God was much read and recommended by Blessed Solanus Casey; Venerable Maria Cecilia Baij, an 18th-century Italian nun; and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, best known for her visions of the Passion.
Thigpen said he “combined, condensed, and adapted into a single style and voice many narrative threads from each mystical account.”
One illuminating scene after another will prompt readers to stop to imagine and reflect. Among the many: Joseph’s selection to be Mary’s husband echoes David’s selection as leader of the Israelites; and Joseph’s accompanying of Mary when she visits Elizabeth makes sense, for traveling the 80 miles from Nazareth, over rough roads and territory, was something a young woman would not do alone. We’re told angels accompanied them but were not visible to Joseph, only to Mary.
On the way, Thigpen writes, “He loved his spouse most tenderly with a chaste and holy love, which had been ordained in him by the special grace and dispensation of the divine Love itself. In addition to this privilege (which was certainly not a small one), the saint was naturally of a most noble and courteous disposition, and his manners were most pleasing and charming. All this produced in him a most discreet and loving attentiveness, which was increased by the great holiness that he had seen from the beginning in his spouse. ... For this reason, the saint eagerly attended to Mary, asking her many times whether she was tired or weary, and in what ways he could serve her on the journey.”
Following the Holy Family as fellow travelers journeying to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, readers learn people and places they encountered along the route, and then how, in Bethlehem, their needs were ignored by even friends and relatives.
On the other hand, the beautiful, consoling and spiritually moving details of the visit of the shepherds after Jesus’ birth, and Joseph’s role in all this, will fill minds and hearts with what that Nativity was like. During that time in the cave of the Nativity, readers discover more of Joseph’s tenderness toward Mary, expressed in the preparations and beautiful decorations he made to celebrate the anniversary of their betrothal.
Scene after scene informs of Joseph’s constant growth in the spiritual realm, his heroic virtues, his love for Mary and Jesus and his attention to them and concern for them, and his exceptional diligence in every area of their lives and love. At the same time, readers are drawn into the life of the Holy Family and its holiness, a boon for spiritual growth.
The long section on the Flight Into Egypt and life there, highlighting the kind of work Joseph had to do and how he built a little place of prayer for the Holy Family and the Jews who were living in Hierapolis, is most interesting. Such scenes include Joseph teaching the Jews in one Egyptian town to sing the Psalms because they had fallen into the area’s idolatry. Joseph had to bear a “heavy cross” as the Holy Family was mistreated in the foreign land. On their return to Israel, the detailed glimpses of their life in Nazareth highlights the Holy Family’s interconnected spiritual lives.
From Bethlehem to his carpenter shop, Joseph’s heroic virtues are exhibited: “Joseph ordered his occupations and his work in the way that would be most worthy to earn a livelihood to support the divine Child and His mother as well as for himself. What in other sons of Adam is considered a punishment and a hardship was to this holy patriarch a great happiness. For while others were condemned to sustain their natural life by the labor of their hands in the sweat of their brows, Joseph was blessed and consoled beyond measure to know that he had been chosen by his labor and sweat to support God Himself, to whom belonged heaven and earth and all that they contain, and God’s own mother.”
In addition, “the beloved saint was astounded by the Savior’s deep humility, and he sought to imitate His example. The sight of God Himself being submissive to Joseph’s commands in this way pressed the carpenter to humble himself even more.”
Similarly, “Whenever Joseph saw Mary, his love of God grew stronger, and his heart would come alive with a hunger for greater holiness. For the Mother of God possessed this special privilege: When someone gazed upon her with a true and chaste love (as Joseph certainly did), that person would be filled through and through with a holy zeal and heavenly longings.”
Readers also learn of the great distress and sorrows Joseph had to undergo, including learning from Mary what sufferings Jesus would have to endure.
Thigpen’s writing and descriptions exhibit delicacy of phrase as he narrates the details of the scenes. At the beginning, he takes care to make one qualification clear: “While the sources from which this book has been compiled have frequently been published with the approval of learned theologians and with the permission of the ordinaries of many dioceses in several countries, I willingly submit all that is contained in this work to the judgment of the Holy See.” Since these are not sacred Scriptures themselves, no one is required to believe in them, but meditating on the visions from these doctors of the soul are enlightening, even if we have to “use great discretion, recognizing that their value is primarily spiritual,” notes Thigpen.
In the visions, “we see not only Joseph, Jesus, Mary, and their contemporaries but in a certain sense ourselves as well. Held up as a mirror, this story invites us all to view ourselves more clearly and to imitate their holy example as we seek to navigate the course of our lives.”
“In virtue of these special privileges, the intercession of Joseph is most powerful,” readers are told, then reminded of seven very specific ways he will assist us. “These and many other favors God grants to those who properly and with good disposition seek the intercession of Joseph, the spouse of our Queen.
“Let all the faithful children of the Church be deeply devoted to him. For they will experience these favors in reality if they dispose themselves as they should in order to receive and be fit for them.”